Thursday 18 June 2015

Review: Jurassic World has thrills aplenty but lacks charm

Jurassic World
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio
Running time: 124mins

As much a remake of Jurassic Park as it is a direct sequel, Jurassic World cannot help but suffer by comparison with the original film. Park had warmth and wonder, a bevy of intriguing and likeable characters, plus it all felt so new (that “Welcome… to Jurassic Park” scene (below) still takes the breath away). Twenty-two years on and a couple of unfairly maligned follow-ups later and it’s like we’ve come full circle. Unfortunately, this time, too much seems second hand and worn around the edges.

The park of Steven Spielberg’s movie is now a massive Disneyworld-style enterprise situated on John Hammond’s original Isla Nublar, off Costa Rica. Dino-fatigue has long since set in amongst the public, so, to keep visitor numbers high, hybrid creatures have been created using the DNA of a variety of dinosaurs and other animals. One such beast – the Indominus Rex (a kind of T-Rex on steroids) – is the movie’s big bad. Two boys (both irritating) arrive on the island to spend quality time with their aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard as the theme park’s underwritten operations manager) just as the Indominus escapes and Velociraptor-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) steps in to try and save the day (and, unfortunately, the kids).

Pratt’s transformation from amusing sitcom schlub to A-list movie star has been enormous fun to witness, and even though he now has abs of steel and fights galactic super villains and dinosaurs, there’s a part of him that will always be out-of-shape moocher Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation. Indeed, it’s that everyman side to him that makes Pratt so watchable. Here, his relationship with the team of raptors he’s forged a bond with provides many of the film’s best moments, including a genuinely exciting night-time hunt for the Indominus towards the end, and an earlier scene in which he attempts to save one of the park’s workers who has fallen into his scaly pals’ enclosure.

The climactic final battle is also a cracker, producing in me the same giddy rush I felt as a child seeing King Kong’s punch up with the T-Rex (below) for the first time. Additionally, there’s an intriguing subplot about the military wanting to weaponise the raptors for use on the battlefield and I really hope that’s something they properly explore in one of the inevitable sequels. Jurassic War does have a nice ring to it.

Alas, the film’s flaws are simply too big to ignore. Outside of Grady, the other characters are dull and one-dimensional (hubristic billionaire, nasty military man, tedious career woman, sulky teen), which might be more forgivable had not the original film given us the more fully realised Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), as well as Hammond himself (the late Sir Richard Attenborough). I understand why the makers of Jurassic World wanted a clean slate but the replacements simply aren’t up to the job. Director Trevorrow’s first feature – the wonderfully quirky indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed – was very character-focused so it’s a surprise he hasn’t brought more of that sensibility to bear here.

Elsewhere, many of the thrills feel awfully familiar (we’re off to save the kids… again), while constant references to the original film only serve to highlight this one's shortcomings. Jurassic Park had genuine charm to accompany its thrills and spills, Jurassic World has only noise and spectacle. Even the Indominus itself is surprisingly unimaginative. With a whole world of fictional monsters to draw upon for inspiration (Godzilla, Cloverfield, Pacific Rim), surely they could have come up with something a bit more interesting than a slightly bigger and meaner tyrannosaur.

Rating: WW

Jurassic World is in cinemas now


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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